Restaurants & Bars San Francisco Bay Area

Lazy Sonoma Saturday

Melanie Wong | | Jul 28, 2001 11:21 PM

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’ve been sleeping in most Saturdays and today was the first time I’ve been to a Saturday morning farmers market all summer. Might as well go to the best one, so I headed to downtown Healdsburg. Nearly all the vendors here grow organically, are from farms right around Healdsburg and several only produce enough to sell at this market to their neighbors.

Taking in the scene with fresh eyes, I marveled at how lucky we are to have such abundance so close to home. Country bouquets of field-grown flowers – intoxicating lilies, antique roses, cosmos and more; a patchwork of green, yellow, purple, pink, orange, red, black, and magenta heritage plums (from the old days when the area was known for plums and not only wine grapes); handmade cheeses from local herds; smoked King salmon caught off Bodega Bay, artisan breads and breakfast pastries; fragrant vine-ripened melons; a riot of sweet and hot peppers native to far away places; dewy fresh squash blossoms; free-form and multi-color heirloom tomatoes; curlicues of Armenian cucumbers woven with other types; green Gravenstein apples and a few early varieties; long-stemmed organic strawberries; a multitude of eggplants in every shade and size, baskets of colorful berries; and so much more to feed the eye.

Boy, it was hard to resist tasting and buying some of everything! But, I’ll only be eating at home for two days, so my purchases were limited to a perfectly ripe Sharlyn melon, white eggplants, the last basket of strawberries, cucumbers, corn, and a plump Brandywine tomato.

Next I walked over to Henry’s Restaurant for what turned out to be a disappointing lunch. The banner outside promoting handmade hamburgers had caught my eye. Questioning the counterman, the right answers came back to me – the meat is ground for them daily by Big John’s (the local meat market) and they form the patties gently and carefully to order. While the meat may be good and their hands gentle, the 1/4# patties are shaped very thin to cover a big 5” diameter bun. Far from medium rare as I had ordered it, this was well-done even though the exterior was barely browned, as you’d expect for a patty of that dimension. The sesame seed bun was nicely grilled and toasty, its soft mushy interior soon disintegrated and the whole thing collapsed before I had eaten a third. Too much shredded lettuce, and there’s no excuse for a pasty tomato this time of year. They need to rethink the architecture here. The thick-cut fries were too greasy but deeply golden and very crunchy, a good showing for those.

Once you hit Sonoma County the radio station to listen to is KJZY, Smooth Jazz, at 93.7FM out of Sebastopol. Classic jazz is featured on Saturday night and Sunday night’s host Jerry Dean always spins something interesting. The other reason to tune in here is for the local traffic report, local business ads, and community bulletin board announcements. Today this clued me into the Piner High cheer leaders fundraiser in Windsor for a hand car wash. Other times you’ll hear about local food and wine events such as street dances, Rotary Club crab feeds, firemen’s barbecues, Gravenstein Festival (August 11 and 12), etc. that you might want to catch that day.

Appropriately scrubbed, I then headed over to a friend’s winery in Russian River Valley for some tasting and to pick up a few bottles. I was surprised to see that they’d leveled a small rise overlooking the vineyard and installed luxurious turf. It should take in time to entertain late summer picnickers. I also got a tip from them on what they feel may well be the new star on the local restaurant scene – Lutecia Restaurant Français (1015 Gravenstein Hwy., Sebastopol, 707.829.7010) – which opened three months ago. My friends thought the food was underpriced for the quality and that they were treated very well by warm and professional servers. An amusée and complimentary glass of Roeder Anderson Valley sparkling wine for each diner was a well-appreciated gesture. They had the Foie gras with aspic and the Coquilles St. Jacques as appetizers and said that the serving size is big enough for two to share; and the Fish of the day - local salmon and the Duck breast with peaches for mains. They complimented the wine service/list and said corkage is $10. The local critic’s review is linked below – I can hardly wait to try it myself!

Next was a swing over to Roseland or what’s now called “Sebastopol Road Business District” in Santa Rosa to gas up. The Beacon station there has the lowest prices for non-Costo pumps. What also draws me to this area is the fleet of taco trucks, a changing array depending on time of day. I stopped by La Texanita (which is painted on the truck although the staff t-shirts say Antojitos La Tejanita) when I spotted the aguas man was on duty. The aguas frescas here are pumped through those aerating fruit juice dispensers to keep them cold, rather than being diluted by ice in the big glass jars. The horchata is made from scratch from rice powder, non-fat milk, cinnamon and sugar. The version here, one of the best around, is not so sweet and has lots of cinnamon. However, these drinks aren’t always available when the truck shows up and I haven’t quite figured out the aguas man’s schedule yet. So far I’ve been able to catch him on Saturday and Sunday between 3pm and 6:30pm, never on a weekday.

Turning around toward home, the Chowhound-alert peripheral vision caught a handmade sign and arrow on the corner of Sebastopol Road and Hampton Way that said “Grand Opening – Terry’s Southern Style Fish & BBQ”. Naturally, I had to investigate and pulled up to what turned out to be the restaurant attached to the Santa Rosa Golf Center driving range. When I jumped out of the car and didn’t smell anything that hinted of standing in front of a barbecue joint, my thought was that I’d just poke my head in and grab a menu. But when you step inside, the aromas of smoke, spicy sauce and lots of good things hits you. Open since mid-May, they’ve been so busy getting started, there were no take-out menus yet. Instead, the sweet girl said, “please take a seat and try a free sample of a rib.” So I did. Nice crust on the pork rib and enough smoky flavor without being overpowering, but I’d prefer more bite to the texture rather than the softness here. The sauce (she’d brought me mild) was fruity and not sickening sweet. A decent effort that would encourage a return visit. The white board offered peach cobbler or sweet potato pie. When she told me they made their own, I got a slice of the sweet potato ($2.50) to go. When I got home, the pasty color looked underdone but the bottom crust was not soggy and was cooked all the way through. This is a short crust and relatively unsweetened. This sweet potato pie is distinctive in that it’s much less sweet than other versions I’ve had. The crust isn’t cookie sweet and the smooth filling shows the natural sweetness and flavors but isn’t sugary like candy. I’ll have to get back there while peaches are in season.

For the drive home I detoured through Geyserville. The Geyser Smokehouse has posted a liquor license application but no date yet for opening. Further north on the main drag, I was happy to see that the gruff tomato man (big house with wide lawn on left side of the street) is in business for the season, although he was sold out by that time in the late afternoon.

That’s it, my corn’s waiting for me. A typical Saturday in the Garden of Eden.

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